vrijdag 13 oktober 2017

A day in France

Having arrived at the last day of our little holiday, we decided to spend it abroad!

This isn't as big a deal as it sounds, though, as the French border is a mere 6 kilometers from where we were staying.

The aim of our visit was Cassel, a litle town perched on a hilltop 176 meters above the Flanders plain, in the north-eastern corner of France, in the newly formed French region of Hauts-de-France (a merger of the former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy).

Easier said than done, though, as getting there proved to be fraught with obstacles.

First, we had to turn back after just a couple of kilometers as Jos had forgotten his flat cap, and refused to spend the day bare-headed.

Then, due to a major road diversion in border town Watou, we got a bit lost. Luckily we had good old "Marie-Jeanne" (our SatNav!) with us, who navigated us by way of narrow country lanes through fields and villages where time seemed to have stood still.

The final stretch of our journey was a cobbled road zig-zagging up the hill, until we finally arrived in the town centre. There, we snagged the last parking spot at the edge of the Grand'Place, near the town's main church, leaving our car in a rather precarious position.

Nearby, on a corner, was a little café, where we stopped for coffee in order to get our bearings.

Here, time seemed to have stood still too.

Apart from "le patron" and his dad, who sat at the table next to us painstakingly cleaning a head of lettuce for lunch, the charming café exuding the spirit of French Flanders, was empty.

While admiring the café's rustic decor, its tiled floor, the fringed mantelpiece with its ornate figurines, we suddenly noticed the fly paper hanging from one of the lamps, proudly displaying its hapless victims.

With that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I approached the toilets which, much to my relief, turned out not to be of the French variety!

We were told that people are proud of their Flemish heritage here and that there are still evening classes teaching the language, which, confusingly, is a little bit different from the Flemish we speak on the other side of the border.

I'd printed a town trail of approximately 3 kilometers, called "Cassel, par rues et ruelles" from the Internet, but we were given a colour map outlining the same by the café's landlord.

The town trail starts outside the tourist office in the Grand'Place, and can be followed by way of copper stud marks in the pavements.
In spite of the map and the stud marks, typically we still managed to get lost a couple of times!

After exploring the Grand'Place and its historical buildings, notably the The Noble Cour mansion, a 16th-century Flemish building, which is home to the Musée Départemental de Flandre, we continued the walk by turning into the Rue du Château.

This narrow lane passes through the old castle gate before leading up to a public garden on top of the hill, with several viewpoints and orientation tables.

The Casteelmeulen ("meulen" is old Flemish for mill, the modern word is "molen") is a post mill situated on the highest point of Cassel Hill, on the site of the former castle. The present mill dates from the 18th century and is a listed building. It is still a working mill and can sometimes be visited.

From the mill, there's a path climbing up to the equestrian monument of Marshall Foch, who had his headquarters in Cassel from October 1914 to June 1915, during the Battle of Ypres.

It was here that we had our first wobble, as it seemed that the pavement studs and the walk's instructions pointed us in different directions.

As it was nearly noon by then, we decided to retrace our steps to the Grand'Place and grab some lunch. In spite of an uncertain start, the sun was out in full force, and we were able to eat sitting outside on the terrace overlooking the Grand' Place.

Afterwards, we continued our walk, eventually finding the path downhill which led us in the right direction.

At the octagonal Horne Chapel, we turned left and at the bottom of the street, turned right on to Rue de Dunkerque, passing an old horse trough on our right.

Here, we were accosted by a scruffy Frenchman walking his dog, who told us we were a couple of months late, as apparently the trough had been refilled and the borders replanted back in the Spring.

He then continued with a rant involving the local authorities, the EU, and the general state of the world which, as we all know, is foutu. We politely listened, nodded and mumbled some standard French replies, while backing away, throwing a casual au revoir over our shoulders, with him still nattering on in the background.

Soon, another gate, the Porte de Dunkerque came into view. Passing underneath brought us back to the main church, Collégiale Notre Dame de la Crypte, and the café, where our car was parked.

Still, the walk wasn't finished!

Behind the church is the old Jesuits' chapel, with a listed façade dating from 1687. Here, we had to turn right on to Chemin du Chapître, an alleyway of sandstone steps, emerging at the bottom on to Rue du Maréchal Foch.

We had another wobble here. We kept on walking in the direction of the town centre, passing a bakery, where we bought a baguette and two brioches for our evening meal.

It then dawned on us that we'd missed a turning. We were supposed to pass beneath yet another gate, the Porte d'Ypres, but couldn't recall seeing it. Afterwards, looking through my photographs, I think the one on the bottom left in the above collage could have been it.

This should have brought us to a path called Chemin des Remparts, following the town walls. However, we were able to rectify our mistake without turning back as, almost immediately after passing the bakery, we came across a narrow alley leading to the Chemin de Remparts!

Back on track, we followed the path running at the back of the town's houses, with a variety of garden gates with peeling paint and rusty hinges, punctuating the walls.

We sat down on one of conveniently placed benches, soaking up the September sun and admiring the view.

The final stretch of the path becomes another alley, which at some point is only 70 centimeters wide, and emerges onto a road leading back to the Grand'Place and our car.

The next day, it was time to pack our bags and head home, saying goodbye to our little cottage and the lovely Johanna for another year.

--- The End ---

maandag 9 oktober 2017

About things today and fallen leaves

Lately I've been so busy telling you all about our travelling adventures, that I've been neglecting to properly show you what I've been wearing.

At this time of year, the weather seems to be all or nothing, with the sun working overtime one day - as if to make up for the dreadful Summer - and Autumn at its worst the next. Sometimes it's a struggle to get dressed appropriately in the morning.

I've been trying to make the most of what is left of the season, by wearing items from my Summer wardrobe for as long as I can.

Two weeks ago (how time flies!), this was what I was wearing for a Sunday walk in the park.

Such a gorgeous day it was, but with a hint of Autumn's earthiness in the air.

I chose a short-sleeved dress printed with flowers and fruits (I detect apples, pears, cherries and grapes) in hues of purple and green.

The burgundy booties I was wearing are very comfortable and perfect for a walk in the park. However, when we were walking towards the park I noticed that the top piece of one of the heels was coming loose. There was nothing for it but to continue but by the end of our walk, it had gone, so it must have joined the carpet of crunchy autumn leaves at some point.

Or maybe I lost it near this weathered tree trunk, among the prickly husks of chestnuts, some of them still harbouring their glossy reddish cargoes.

There was no need for a coat, but I did wear a chunky knit green batwing cardigan, which I'd charity shopped the day before (one of three I bought that day).

This  majestic 180 year old weeping beech (left) is fenced in to protect its shallow root system and delicate bark.

Elsewhere, several trees were strangely bandaged up, looking like casualties in a hospital. I'm sure there's a reason for this, but I've been too lazy to find out!

The late September sun was bathing everything in a hazy golden glow, making the park's folly, called the English cottage, look particularly charming and lighting up the Japanese anemones growing in its diminutive cottage garden.

Emerging from the trees, the castle appeared like a mirage on the horizon. The dancing nymphs were dancing their eternal dance around the trickling fountain, with the sun on their backs and their skirts fluttering in an invisible wind.

On our way out, we nipped into the walled public picking garden where, when in season, a variety of fruits - apples, pears, cherries and plums, as well as soft fruits like gooseberries and raspberries - can be picked at will.

The Gautam Buddha was presented by the Ambassador of Nepal in 2004, as a token of friendship between Nepal and Belgium.

Fast forward one week. On Saturday before last, we were getting ready for a surprise birthday party thrown by Jos's children.

He really had no idea, thinking we were going to have dinner at his son's. I still don't know what made him pull out all the stops and dress up like that. The pocket watch used to belong to his grandfather.

Ok, that's it, he's now been taking over my blog for long enough!

Let me show you what I wore!

I opted for a maxi dress with three quarter fluted sleeves and a fabulous print of blue and pink flowers and orange and blue stripes. It's got not one but two labels: one says M. Fischer, Paris and the other Femina, Limoges. Sounds posh, but what is that all about? Googling didn't get me anywhere.

We had quite a full-on weekend, as on Sunday we had a flea market to go to.

Dithering in front of my wardrobe and  dismissing several options, I finally chose this Lucie Linden two piece with a brocade-like flower pattern in citrus colours.

Underneath, I wore a turquoise three-quarter sleeve top, and I accessorized with orange beads (charity shopped in Wales), an orange and green print silk scarf (charity shopped), turquoise plastic flower ring (flea market) and a green squirrel brooch, which was bought new from a delightful shop in Antwerp.

The suit turned out to be a show stopper, and I was complimented on it quite a few times that day.

At first sight, the flea market seemed to be in full swing, but it wasn't very crowded and some of the sellers complained bitterly.

Now, without further ado, let me show you what I found:

The cherry brooch is 1950s and the cheap 'n cheerful cup and saucer one was found at the bottom of a carton. The seller looked at it as if she'd never seen it before.

I'm quite taken with the Lucite necklace, which came from the same seller.

Top right is the ultimate pussy bow top, printed with red-eyed Phoebes.

I'd seen the burgundy bag, with its Lucite handles, in one of the first aisles, but having quite enough handbags already, I didn't immediately buy it. Before we went home, I went back for it, though.

On the bottom right is a vintage enamel lunch box, made in Germany, for our kitchenalia collection.

Our last two finds came from one of our favourite sellers, Ilona.

Top left and right is a child's embroidery set, which came in a cute vinyl case. How I would have loved this as a girl, even though I was rubbish at sewing. It's hard to resist such vinyl cases, and I have several of them in my vintage Barbie doll collection.

Finally, on the bottom left, a plaster Bambi ornament. I really have to stop buying these, as we have run out of space to properly display them. The epitome of cuteness, I couldn't very well leave it behind.

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.

After this little catch up, it'll be time for the final installment of my travelogue in my next post.

donderdag 5 oktober 2017

There's such a lot of world to see

As last Wednesday was Jos's birthday, I'd taken the day off to commiserate with him!

The sun was shining, which would have been enough to get us out of bed, if it weren't for Phoebe, who 'd brought Jos a present: a mangled spider which she deposited at his side of the bed. Very thoughtful of her, don't you think?

So, up we got and after a leisurely breakfast, we headed to the nearby town of Mortsel, where we parked our car and took a tram into Antwerp.

I had a hairdresser's appointment at 12 o'clock, but we were early, and ambled into the direction of the salon, playing at being tourists.

Antwerp's cathedral dominates almost every view and glimpses of it can be caught in the most unexpected of places.

These are just three of Antwerp's elaborate street corner Madonnas, dating from the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Today, about 160 of them remain, adding greatly to the city's charm.

While Jos was enjoying a cup of coffee, my hairdresser, Michel, who has been looking after my hair for more than twenty years, was working his magic.

It was Michel who pointed us in the direction of a nice little place to eat, d'Aa Toert, in a narrow street running almost parallel with Antwerp's Grote Markt. "Aa Toert" is Antwerp slang for old woman, its literal translation being "old tart" but without the connotations it has in English! Indeed, the place is renowned for its delicious cakes and tarts, which we as yet have to try out.

Stepping into the restaurant feels like entering a junk shop, with shelves full of mismatched china and knick-knacks, framed prints, ornate mirrors and an assortment of table lamps.

The place seemed to be full but when we mentioned Michel's name, we were promptly seated at a little table for two. After pasta (for me) and mushrooms on toast (for Jos), we received a complimentary coffee for Jos's birthday!

Afterwards, we sauntered towards the tram stop and waited for the tram to take us to our final destination of the day.

Our destination, as can be seen on the tram, was called Eilandje, or to give it its full name, Het Eilandje, which translates as "The Little Island".

Het Eilandje dates back to 1550 and is the oldest port site in Antwerp. During the French Regency (1795-1814), Napoleon ordered the excavation of the first two docks, which would turn Het Eilandje into a flourishing port.

In the 20th century, when the port expanded further to the north, the busy port life disappeared and people moved away from the area. For decades, it was a desolate area, a barrier between port and city.

This forgotten corner of Antwerp, with its moody, rundown hangars, has been patiently waiting for a new lease of life along the river, which it has finally been given.

In the last decade there has been a real urban metamorphosis which has turned the once down-at-heel area into an attractive neighbourhood consisting of water, contemporary architecture and culture, as well as a multitude of trendy cafés and restaurants.

There's a hint of nostalgia as well, in the historic warehouses, rusty cranes, sturdy bollards and old bridges and locks.

The jewel in its crown is MAS (Museum aan de Stroom, Dutch for Museum by the River), which was opened in 2011, and which was the aim of our visit.

The largest museum in Antwerp and certainly the most visually striking, MAS is a sight to behold, with its staggered rusty red brick levels, looking like a tower of containers stacked one on top of the other and rising to a height of 60 meters. 

It houses nearly half a million items, only 180,000 being on display, all focusing on the city of Antwerp.

Adorning the façade are 3,185 hand shaped ornaments, a homage to the symbol of the city.

The River Scheldt has been Antwerp's lifeline for many centuries, and water is a key element of MAS, with it rippling glass and watery reflections.

The museum is well worth visiting, even if you are only there for the views!

Escalators, and one final staircase, take you past nine floors to the top, treating you to a wonderful view of the city, which changes constantly as you rise higher, each floor opening up yet more vistas pulled slightly and disconcertingly out of shape by the rippling glass walls.

A breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Antwerp awaits you on the roof terrace: the inner city rooftops and its skyline towers, the River Scheldt snaking away beyond its bend towards the rest of the world.

Antwerp's landmark towers, with the cathedral taking its rightful place in a prominent position, seemed to be joined by an encroaching army of high-rise buildings rising up from the city smog.

We couldn't get enough of the bird's eye view of Antwerp, the city and port a Lilliput world at our feet.

There was time for some posing too, with me framed by the cathedral's towers. The orange leather jacket must be my best buy so far this year, accompanying me on many an outing. Here, I'm wearing one of my favourite skirts with it, in colourful floral Diolen, and a short sleeved black polka dot top with a notched collar. All vintage, from Think Twice.

After this visual treat, we descended to the ground floor again, taking in the building's stunning architectural details. 

We ended our visit in the museum café, where we treated ourselves to a restorative cup of coffee.

zondag 1 oktober 2017

Lo and behold

I'm continuing my travelogue with what we did on Wednesday, day five of our little holiday back in September.

Our feet still a bit sore from our long walk at the seaside, we wanted to take it a little bit easier the next day.

It was thus that we found ourselves in a place called Lo. At first sight it looks like a small provincial town, or indeed a somewhat overgrown village but, with just over 3000 inhabitants, it is actually Belgium's smallest city.

It wasn't my first visit to Lo. Indeed the first time I ever set foot there was back in the early 1980s, when my then boyfriend and I cycled to it by tandem all the way from Antwerp, a ride of almost 155 kilometers. We were visiting a friend who'd bought a dilapidated farm on the outskirts of the town and we stayed for 2 weeks, alternately sleeping in a tent, which had seen better days, and the farm's hayloft.

I hardly remember anything about Lo itself, other than it had a cheese factory where cheese could be bought cheaply directly from their shop.

The cheese factory might have moved on but there's another factory only a stone's throw from the market place, called Jules Destrooper.  Founded in 1886, they have been producing biscuits for well over a hundred years and, in order to celebrate their 125th anniversary, a visitor centre was opened in 2011.

While we were getting our bearings, a delicious smell of baking was lingering in the air, so we decided to follow our noses and make our way to the visitor centre, the mouthwatering aroma getting stronger as we were nearing the factory's premises.

In different rooms, the rich history of the family business and the art of biscuit making in general is laid out.

In one of the rooms, a film outlining the factory's history could be viewed, while sitting on stools made to look like boxes of Jules Destrooper biscuits.

At the end of the tour, there's an opportunity to sample the various biscuits on offer, accompanied by a cup of coffee or tea.

By then it was lunchtime but, having stuffed our faces with biscuits, we weren't at all hungry, so we followed a town trail, a leaflet of which can be obtained in the town's tourist office.

Same as in Nieuwpoort, there were works of art in every nook and cranny.

The picturesque West Gate, with its defence towers, is the only remaining gate of the town's original four.  Next to the gate is the Caesar tree where, according to legend, Julius Caesar tethered his horse and rested in its shade on his journey to Great Britain.

At the end of a cobbled lane lined by yet more works of art, an intriguing tower was beckoning. The tower is actually a tall dovecote, dating from 1710, with 1132 pigeon holes, which used to belong to an abbey. Some pigeons were still nesting there, although allegedly there were Pokémon hiding in there as well. A couple of Pokémon hunters were milling around the tower and rudely spoiling my view, which I proceeded to tell them in no uncertain terms.

The main square is dominated by the old town hall, complete with belfry tower, dating from the late 16th century, the ground floor of which is now used as a restaurant. On the other side of the square is the abbey of the Poor Clares, established in 1492 after the nuns arrived in Lo to nurse the plague victims. The abbey was enlarged in the 16th and 17th century and now functions as the town hall after the nuns sold it to the town authorities in 2008.

After a late-ish car picnic, we drove on to our next destination, Beauvoorde Castle, a veritable fairy tale moated castle hidden away in a landscaped park in the tiny village of Wulveringem.

After the original castle was burned down by bandits, it was rebuilt in 1617 in Renaissance style. At that time the castle was owned by Jacob de Bryarde, and it remained in the Bryarde family until 1828, when the family fortunes were in decline and the castle was falling into a state of increasing disrepair.

A visit starts at the visitor centre, where there is an introductory exhibition and you are supplied with an audio guide. Then you cross the bridge over the moat where, standing in the small courtyard, you have to pull the bell to gain entrance.

From the outside, Beauvoorde Castle appears to be a perfect example of a 17th century castle. But don’t be deceived. It was actually created in the late 19th century through the romantic vision of one man.

In 1875, wealthy aristocrat Arthur Merghelynck fell in love with the by then ruined castle. He was attracted by its picturesque setting, as well as its potential to fulfill his grand scheme.

Merghelynck was an incurable romantic who resented the increasing industrialization of Flanders. He wanted to cherish the atmosphere, style and romance of the past, and in particular the 17th century.

Over the next 27 years he  rebuilt and restored Beauvoorde Castle, and filled its many rooms with original Flemish furniture and art bought at auction, while anything he was unable to find, he had reproduced. The result is a 17th century castle fully furnished in the style of that period.

After extensively exploring the castle and its magnificent interiors, we took a stroll through the park, admiring the castle from all angles.

Before putting another lovely day to bed, here is a closer look at what I was wearing.

Dress: Belgian brand Who's That Girl, bought in the sales
Cardigan: H&M, flea market
Belt and Kitsch Kitchen bag: charity shopped
Flower corsage: retail
Necklace: Blender Vintage Shop
Shoes: Clarks Cloudsteppers, bought in the sales in Aberystwyth!
Leather jacket, as seen in some of the photos: Think Twice.

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style